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The standoff between Metro and D.C. fire officials over the incident on Jan. 12 that filled a subway train with smoke and left one passenger dead continued to escalate Friday evening, with the release of a city report that contradicts information given by Metro.
The effort to rescue passengers from the train appears to have been hindered by poor radio communications. A Jan. 17 report from D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services stated that fire officials had warned Metro four days before the incident that radio communications weren’t working in and around L’Enfant Plaza Station, where the incident occurred. Metro countered on Thursday that the fire department had encrypted its radio communications without informing Metro.
Now the latest report, issued last night by the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, strikes back at that notion. According to the report, FEMS has worked with Metro over the past two years to conduct 600 tests on its new radios with encryption capabilities, with tests at every Metro station. A Jan. 8 test found that the radios were not working properly at L’Enfant Plaza, and FEMS informed Metro of that, but Metro didn’t fix the problem before the Jan. 12 incident, the report alleges.
What’s more, the report states, encryption “does not appear to have played a role in the communications difficulties” experienced by FEMS around L’Enfant Plaza.
A timeline of the incident and response, from the HSEMA reportIn the absence of reliable radio communication, responders had to resort to cell phones, runners, and a walkie-talkie function on their radios to communicate during the evacuation. Rescuers estimate it took 45 minutes from the time they reached the train to evacuate the last passengers. By the time the evacuation was complete, one woman had died, and more than 80 people were transported to local hospitals.
The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting the authoritative study on the causes of and response to the incident. After a 2009 Red Line crash that killed eight people, it took NTSB a year to issue its report on the accident, so the agency’s report on this incident is not expected imminently.
Photo from the NTSB report